Ascertainability Issues Preclude Certification of a Class of Individuals Alleging Violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification citing plaintiffs’ failure to satisfy Rule 23’s ascertainability, commonality, typicality, and predominance requirements.  The defendants, a debt collection agency and law firm, had filed state court complaints on behalf of medical providers in order to collect delinquent debts.  The state court complaints included an exhibit listing providers who had allegedly assigned their claims to the plaintiff-provider in each respective case. Plaintiffs’ putative class action complaint alleged that defendants violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Michigan Occupational Code by falsely alleging that the medical providers listed in the the exhibit had assigned their claims to the plaintiff-provider in each complaint.  The plaintiffs sought to certify a class consisting of all individuals who were named as defendants in any debt collection case filed in Michigan by the defendants “which falsely stated that the plaintiff[-medical provider] had taken assignment of the claims of the additional creditors . . . .”

First, after stating that ascertainability is an implied though not explicit requirement of Rule 23, the court held that the proposed class was not sufficiently ascertainable because the court would be required to make individualized inquiries into the existence of an assignment in order to determine whether an individual was a member of the class.  Importantly, the court noted that the assignments at issue could be written, oral, or implied under Michigan law.  Thus, despite the fact that the existence of written assignments could be ascertained from the defendants’ records, the court found that individual class members could not be identified without making fact-intensive determinations as to whether an assignment was made in each state-court case.  Similarly, the court found that the proposed class was “an improper fail-safe class” because an individual fell within the class definition only if individualized inquiries revealed that the assignment allegation was false.

The court further held that the fact-intensive, individualized issues regarding the existence of an assignment precluded the plaintiffs from satisfying the commonality and typicality requirements of Rule 23(a) and the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b)(3).  Thus, the court denied plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.

Eager v. Credit Bureau Collection Servs., Inc., No. 13-0030, slip op. (W.D. Mich. July 16, 2014).


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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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